Tuesday 3 December 2013

The Alcatraz Series by Brandon Sanderson

On his thirteenth birthday, Alcatraz - a foster child - gets a bag of sand in the mail which purports to be his 'inheritance' sent from his father and mother. The Librarians, of course, immediately steal the bag of sand from him.

This sparks a chain of events which leads Alcatraz to realize that his family is part of a group of freedom fighters who resist the Evil Librarians - the secret cult who actually rule the world. Alcatraz's grandfather shows up and tows him off to infiltrate the downtown library to steal back the mystical bag of sand. The ensuing story involves talking dinosaurs, sentient romance novels, and a dungeon-like labyrinth hiding beneath the innocent-looking downtown library.

Under 14s Only Month was great fun, but due to work (yes, same old excuse again) I didn't manage to review anywhere near as many books as I had planned. I have therefore decided to extend it a little into December, and at least get close to clearing the pile of books in front of me that require reviews.

Back in 2012 the lovely people from Gollancz emailed me asking if I would be interested in reading The Complete Alcatraz by Brandon Sanderson. A quick scan of the publicity material showed this to be a single volume collection of a quadrilogy of stories that had been published in the US between 2007 and 2010. However, that same scan also mentioned that there were 750+ pages in said collection, and as ever my TBR pile was already close to critical mass and I had to decline the offer. Fast forward to the beginning of 2013 and those fab people at Orion sent me a copy of Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians, with a great new cover design and with plans to release the three sequels as separate volumes, and I was hooked.

Alcatraz is a walking disaster. He has moved from foster parent to foster parent, often leaving havoc in his wake as he has a habit of breaking things purely by accident. Unfortunately for Alcatraz no one ever believes these accidents are accidents and so he gets labelled as a problem child. On his 13th birthday he receives an unusual package - a less than exciting bag of sand, supposedly an inheritance left to him by his biological parents. The next morning his grandfather, who he has no recollection of ever meeting, suddenly appears on the scene, and before he knows it Alcatraz is drawn into an ancient battle of good versus evil librarians. 

It would appear that everything Alcatraz thinks he knows about his world is actually a huge pile of lies and misinformation, fabricated by the forces of the evil Librarians of the book's title. Grandpa Smedry also informs Alcatraz that his innate ability for accidental destruction is not a curse, but is in fact his Smedry talent, and a very rare one at that. All of the Smedrys have similarly bizarre talents, including always being late, getting lost and falling over, to name but a few.

I'm sure you've guessed by now that this is not your normal, run-of-the-mill fantasy story, and this is made very clear from the opening 'author's' foreword. The story is told by Alcatraz himself, and he does so with a heavy dose of sarcasm, a liberal sprinkling of jocularity, a soup├žon of cynicism and an undercurrent of dry wit throughout. He also has a habit of playing storytelling 'tricks' on his readers, keeping them on their toes, and interspersing plot developments with (at the time) seemingly irrelevant rants on whatever subject takes his fancy. I found all of this quite unique, entertaining and I found myself regularly chuckling away. However, at the same time I was fully aware that some people might find the humor and style of narration more than a little irritating, and I have to say that these books are definitely not for everyone. I reckon they are a little like marmite - most adults will either love them or hate them, but these books were written for younger readers, and with this in mind I feel they are likely to be very popular with aged 11-14 kids who love off-the-wall comedy. Not only are they very funny, but they are well paced, full of great action and some cracking magical fight scenes, and the world-building is as accomplished as you would expect from a writer who has made his name writing adult fantasy.


  1. The very mention of librarians in the title of the first book has meant this series has been on my radar for a while but I've never got round to trying them, I think your review has convinced me to put them on my reading list for next year.

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